Electric Honey Records, the record label run by the students on the music business course at Glasgow Kelvin (formerly Stow) College, celebrates its 25th birthday this year with single releases from singer/songwriter Calum Frame, funk outfit Dopesickfly and garage band The Shambolics, and a rather fine debut album by Glasgow band Pronto Mama, called Any Joy.
Electric Honey has been described by no less an organ than Uncut magazine as “the most successful student-run label in the world”, and who are we to argue with a back catalogue which includes Belle & Sebastian’s classic debut album, Tigermilk, which became the label’s first landmark release, swiftly followed by Snow Patrol’s debut single Starfighter Pilot, released under their original name Polar Bear, and Biffy Clyro’s debut Thekidswhopoptodaywillrocktomorrow EP.
Ahead of this year’s annual label showcase at the West End Festival, we spoke to some of the movers and the shakers associated with the label, including current and former course directors (and 80s pop stars) Ken McCluskey and Alan Rankine, and band members from the label’s three most illustrious alumni.
Ken McCluskey, former Bluebells frontman and current course director, on the unique spirit of the label:
I think its distinguishing feature is that everybody’s involved in it. In first year, they have a lot to do with picking the artist. Last year, we signed a student on the course, Be Charlotte, she’s gone on to greater things. She was just a shy girl in the class and someone said ‘she’s good’.
What I’ve really noticed in the students is they are much more eclectic. When I started uni, you were either a punk or a mod. They’re all open to listening to stuff. So they’re very much part of it. There’s not many courses you have that kind of organic atmosphere. We make things up from scratch. The more self-contained you are the better. It’s good working practise – who can design a poster? Who can drive? Who’s got a flat we can rehearse in?
Alan Rankine, formerly of The Associates and founder of Electric Honey Records, on the album which made the label’s name:
In the three years before we’d done a rap band, and we’d done The Moondials, the band that Stevie Jackson was in. Then this tape lands in front of me, and it had this uncanny ambience about it – lyrically, musically, sonically, everything was right, so instead of doing a single or a four track EP it was obvious to me that there was an album here, so I said to Stuart [Murdoch, B&S frontman] ‘we have a budget, it’s £3500 – can you record and mix ten songs?’ and I kind of knew the answer would be ‘yes’. But the overwhelming thing was, it didn’t matter who you played this to – they could be 60 years old or 17/18 – it had this universal appeal, especially that song The State I Am In, it’s just a killer song. They did some great stuff after that, but that’s a hard one to beat, it really is.
Tigermilk was our biggest success in that that was immediate. With Snow Patrol, we were back to doing the four-track EP thing and Snow Patrol was much more of a slowburn, but eventually when they had their biggest hits, the kudos rubbed off on the college and did what it was meant to do.
Richard [Colburn, B&S drummer] was on the course but he wasn’t there a lot – he spent most of that course down in Nice’n’Sleazy playing pool. He was a hustler, still is!
Richard Colburn, Belle & Sebastian drummer, on his time on the course:
It was a very unique course at the time because it must have been one of the first courses with a record label, so to learn by doing something rather than by reading something is a big deal. At that point, all it was was a big classroom with two phone lines, and that was the office. Alan Rankine was the heart and soul of the course, so quite often on a Friday he would say ‘let’s go to Sleazys and we’ll talk about things there’. You can imagine his stories about The Associates… Alan is Alan, he would just tell you how it is, there was no flannel about it. We had a lot of field trips to Sleazys and places like that, for background knowledge…
I remember we did a swap thing with another college in Dunkirk. We went over to play with a local heavy rock band called Loch Ness. They went on first and there were hundreds of people there going crazy and they finished and literally everybody, even the bar staff, headed off and it just left us and Alan Rankine going ‘will we start?’
Without that label I don’t know where we would be because it allowed us so much freedom in the recording of it in the first place. The good thing about having a record in your hand that you have made already is that you have all the bargaining power and without Electric Honey we would not have had that.
Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol frontman, on what the label did for his band:
I think – actually I know – we were bloody clueless at that time. We were very delighted anybody at all was paying us attention, especially the label that had put out Belle & Sebastian’s mighty Tigermilk the year before. I remember being in awe of nearly everything that happened back then. It was the first time we had recorded in a proper studio so we had that heady mixture of excitement and terror that comes with new experiences and we are very thankful for all those experiences.
I remember Alan Rankine and the students being very helpful and enthusiastic. Rankine had, of course, been there done that (and much more besides) with The Associates so he had already looked inside the Pulp Fiction briefcase that is the music industry and knew things we didn’t yet, so he was a great guy to learn about the music business from. The business side gave us the boke then (and still does at times now) but it’s important to try and stay on top of it or it can f*** you right up. We’re very grateful to Electric Honey for putting out our first single.
James Johnston, Biffy bassist, on his connection (ahem) with the label:
Thinking back to our time with Electric Honey brings back some great memories. It was such an exciting time for the band to be chosen to work with a label with such great pedigree. The students were very enthusiastic and took a hands-on approach to working with the band, so much so that a decade later I found myself married to one of them!